(TRACY, Calif.) – In a rare move on Friday, the National Labor Relations Board impounded workers’ ballots in a high-stakes organizing election for Teamster representation at Taylor Farms, the largest supplier of fresh-cut produce in the country.
The nearly 900 predominately Latino food processing workers at the company’s plants in Tracy, Calif., have been organizing since September to join Teamsters Local 601 in Stockton, Calif., after enduring years of poverty wages, inhumane working conditions, mistreatment of immigrant workers and disrespect by the company.
Ahead of the union election, the Teamsters filed claims covering hundreds of Unfair Labor Practice violations by the company, including the retaliatory firing of union supporters, threatening workers around immigration status and telling immigrant workers they could not vote.
During the two-day election last week, the company deployed a goon squad of supervisors and lead workers to intimidate workers and restrict their movement during the voting period. The company stationed armed guards in full view of workers who were voting and called police who parked their squad cars in front of the facilities, adding to the climate of fear during the election.
Meanwhile, company goons spat on union t-shirts, yelling obscenities and threats at union organizers and workers. One report claims a plant manager called terminated pro-union workers telling them they would be rehired if they came in and voted no against the union. Other reports suggest that workers were sent to vote twice under different names or to vote for workers on vacation.
This extreme hostility by the company and its likely violations of the law forced the NLRB to intervene as final ballots were being cast on Friday evening. The Board removed ballots to a more secure location at its offices in Oakland while it investigates the company’s unlawful conduct.
“During the election days and before, the company had committed such serious violations of the law and the election process that immediate action was needed to safeguard the ballots,” Teamsters Local 601 President Ashley Alvarado said in a statement to workers.
“This is a positive development. It means the Board will immediately begin to review the violations. In addition, the Board is at the end of its review of the charges that have been filed prior to the election. The Board has the power to ensure that justice prevails and order the company to bargain in good faith with your union.”
Alvardo thanked workers for their courage in supporting the union amidst the company’s harsh fear campaign. She added that the Teamsters Union would expand its efforts for justice at Taylor Farms, bringing the force of community allies behind its campaign to expose the company’s poverty wages and cruel practices.
Last week’s vote included three different elections for each employer at the facilities, including Taylor Farms and two “temp” agencies, Sling Shot and Abel Mendoza. Many agency workers at Taylor Farms have worked at the plant for years and are temps in name only. The company relies on the agencies to access a pool of flexible labor to which it has little accountability.
“It’s very sad that as we celebrate the legacy of union leader and civil rights icon Cesar Chavez, the very same anti-worker abuses he fought against are still being committed in the fields and warehouses that feed America,” said Rome Aloise, President of Teamsters Joint Council 7 in San Francisco and International Vice President. “At Taylor Farms, the contractor system that Chavez fought to abolish is alive and well.”
Aloise added that the NLRB’s action to impound ballots in last week’s election shows just how severe the company’s anti-union tactics have been.
Before the election, pro-union workers were targeted and harassed by managers, including one who used racial slurs to degrade Latino workers who supported the union. Company managers forced workers to attend events where the managers chanted “No Se Puede,” in a perverse twist on the empowering “Si Se Puede” slogan popularized by Chavez and the United Farm Workers. It is estimated the company spent over $500,000 to hire 12 anti-union consultants who conducted a vicious campaign to scare and deceive workers.
The Teamsters are committed to continuing their fight for the workers at Taylor Farms. In addition to low wages and lack of affordable benefits, workplace issues include workers being harassed or terminated for taking time off due to illness, the denial of worker’s compensation for injuries on the job, and inadequate protective gear exposing workers to dangerous chemical fumes.
Taylor Farms supplies prepackaged salad and produce to major grocers, retailers and fast-food chains like Walmart and McDonalds. Teamsters Local 601 represents thousands of workers in the food processing industry. More than 2,000 Taylor Farms workers at the company’s facility in Salinas, Calif., are members of Teamsters Local 890.
For more information on the Justice at Taylor Farms campaign, visit the campaign page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JusticeAtTaylorFarms.